The bracket had barely hit the television screen Sunday evening when Marcus Paige’s cellphone lit up.

Immediately, his buddies did something coaches preach against: They looked ahead to a potential Sunday game between North Carolina, Paige’s team, and Iowa State in the third round of the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional in San Antonio, Texas.

“Half my high school (is) Iowa State,” said Paige, a Tar Heel starter via Linn-Mar High School in Marion. “I got texts from people hoping we play Iowa State. That’d be kind of neat.”

The sophomore, however, is grounded. He knows what must happen on Friday — his sixth-seeded team must defeat Providence, and third-seeded Iowa State must beat North Carolina Central.

“When you watch the brackets, you always see certain teams that spark interest,” said Paige, who said he has recovered from thumb and thigh injuries.

“Having a chance to play them if we win would be cool, (but) all my attention definitely is on Providence